When the Capitals selected Bobby Carpenter third overall in the 1981 NHL draft, they made the Massachusetts-bred hockey sensation the highest drafted American player at the time, and the first to play in the league directly out of high school.
As a 17-year-old, the St. John’s Prep center was already a hockey superstar, gracing the cover of Sports Illustrated and earning the nickname “Can’t Miss Kid.” Following the draft, expectations were high as he joined the Capitals for the 1981-82 season.
Despite enjoying success his first season, in which he scored 32 goals, the 18-year-old rookie was unable to help the Capitals claim their first playoff berth. However, during the 1982-83 season Carpenter, along with newly-acquired Rod Langway and offensive leaders Mike Gartner and Dennis Maruk, helped lead the team to the postseason after a long eight-year drought. Though the team lost in the first round to eventual Stanley Cup-champion New York Islanders, it was a major turning point for the Capitals franchise.
Carpenter emerged as an elite player in 1984-85, netting a team-high 53 goals and adding 42 assists for 95 points. He was the first American player to hit the 50-goal mark and broke Joe Mullen’s record of 41 goals to take the record for goals by an American-born player. With almost 200 points between them that season, the tandem of Carpenter and Mike Gartner, both All-Stars, earned the nickname “The Goal Dust Twins.”
After five-and-a-half seasons in Washington, Carpenter was traded to the New York Rangers for Kelly Miller, Mike Ridley and Bob Crawford on New Year’s Day, 1987. He returned to the Capitals as a free agent during the 1992-93 season, appearing in 68 games. Overall, Carpenter spent seven seasons with the Capitals during his 18-year NHL career, recording 188 goals and 207 assists for 395 points.